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Monday, September 1, 2008

Auburn QBs have a long way to go

Watching film from the season-opener reminded Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin that performances are rarely as bad as they seem live.

Franklin said the offensive line played pretty well in the Tigers' 34-0 win Saturday night over ULM.

So did the running backs.

Conversely, quarterbacks Kodi Burns and Chris Todd looked no better on film than they did during the game.

"The quarterbacks, they were both blah," Franklin said. "They were average. I did a poor job of coaching them, and it showed. I've got to do a better job this week."

How average were they?

Through three quarters, the quarterback duo had combined for 28 passing yards while alternating series. That hardly is what Auburn's new spread attack advertised.

"I think they got tense and tight," Franklin said.

Franklin blamed the every-other-series rotation for both quarterbacks' lack of rhythm. He also said this week's game against Southern Mississippi would feature a new way to rotate the quarterbacks, though no method has been established.

While no starter has been named, Burns might be limited in practice this week. The sophomore cut his leg on a ULM player's facemask midway through the third quarter. He limped to the sideline and then the locker room before getting stitches. He did not return to the game or the sideline.

Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said Burns likely would be ready for next week's game.

"There was no swelling today whatsoever," Tuberville said. "They said he probably could practice tomorrow, but we'll hold him out, just let him jog around tomorrow, watch a little bit, and he'll go on Tuesday."

Burns' injury could reduce his playing time. However, if he is cleared to play, Franklin and Tuberville said he would.

Franklin admitted that he hopes either Burns or Todd quickly will emerge as the obvious choice for the starting quarterback spot.

Instead, Franklin thought both quarterbacks looked hesitant to take shots down the field Saturday night, even when he called deep passing plays.

"I don't think either one of them felt that trust factor, and probably because of, 'If I make the bad throw or the bad decision, it might be my last one,'" Franklin said. "I've got to get that out of their heads."

That means Franklin has to split responsibilities this week between coordinating the offense and psychology.

"I tried to give them that confidence to say, 'You're both going to play, so don't worry about it. Play well, and if you throw a pick, you're not done. If you make a bad decision, you're not done,' " Franklin said. "But I think, regardless of that, I think they both probably feel that way.

"Usually, in my history of coaching quarterbacks, I've always told them, 'It doesn't matter what you do. You can throw 12 picks and you're still in. It doesn't make any difference.' This time, it's not that way. I can understand a little bit of it. I'm feeling my way through it, but I better figure it out pretty quick."

It seems Franklin might make it incentive-based for the two quarterbacks to try to make big plays instead of trying to avoid mistakes. Franklin said Sunday that if one quarterback gets hot, he might stay in the game "forever."

Either way, Franklin is searching for a solution to a two-quarterback dilemma he never has faced.

"I've always said you're stupid if you (used two quarterbacks)," Franklin said. "It's funny the way the world works. One day, it'll come back to you. It's a tough deal because they're both really good players. Somewhere along the way, one of them probably will have to play more than the other.

"This week, we'll have to see how it goes."

Injuries take toll

In addition to Burns' injury, receiver Philip Pierre-Louis injured his knee on the opening kickoff. Tuberville confirmed Sunday that Pierre-Louis would have season-ending knee surgery later this week. Pierre-Louis will redshirt this season and still have four years of eligibility.

Another receiver, James Swinton, injured his knee on the first offensive play. Tuberville said the MRI came back negative. He expects Swinton to be ready to play Saturday against Southern Mississippi.

A third receiver, Montez Billings (hamstring), still is questionable after missing the ULM game.

Tuberville said missing three receivers played a minor role in the quarterbacks' struggles.

Linebacker Merrill Johnson (hamstring) is expected to be able to practice again by Tuesday or Wednesday.

H-back John Douglas injured his knee. Tuberville said he wouldn't know the extent of the injury until after Douglas' swelling went down.

Just for kickoffs

Decatur native Morgan Hull is getting a chance to establish himself as Auburn's kickoff specialist.

Hull kicked off three times in the second half of the Tigers' win over ULM and outperformed starter Wes Byrum. Hull averaged 68 yards per kickoff compared to Byrum's 66.8 average. He also booted the only touchback.

"We'll look at it this week," Tuberville said. "I'd love for Morgan to do the kickoffs, just concentrate on that like we did a few years ago with Matt Clark."

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